ARLINGTON, Texas — Has baseball blessed America enough?
Fans at most major league stadiums continue to hear “God Bless America” during the seventh inning on a regular basis, 16 years after the 9-11 terror attacks prompted the use of the ode to America written by Irving Berlin.
At the time, of course, the song helped a nation heal and galvanized a patriotic swell that briefly unified the country. That’s right, millennials, for about five minutes in 2001 America’s political divide vanished.
But in an era when pace of play is an issue, why does the league still direct clubs to continue the tradition, albeit on a less-frequent basis?
“When we don’t do it during the week we have people asking, ‘How come you didn’t do ‘God Bless America?’ ” Rangers public address announcer Chuck Morgan said. “And then you’ve got some fans who will question when they’re here Friday, Saturday and Sunday, ‘Why are we still doing God Bless America?’ “
Major League Baseball has encouraged teams to play “God Bless America” ever since a San Diego Padres official came up with the idea to use the song during the seventh-inning stretch to acknowledge 9-11 once games resumed following the terror attacks.
In New York, police officer Daniel Rodriguez sang the song during the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. It has been played during every game at Yankee Stadium since.
Most clubs, however, scaled it back a year later when then-Commissioner Bud Selig encouraged them to continue using it at their discretion.
Most teams play the song on Sundays and holidays. Rangers fans hear it on weekends and holidays, at the suggestion of co-owner Ray Davis.
Some are virulently against the song being used altogether. New York Daily News columnist Gersh Kuntzman, who is an unabashed atheist, wrote a column a year ago condemning the use of the song. It stirred a strong reaction from readers.
“The vast majority of emails I received on this topic — and I received thousands — was anger that I would question American “traditions” like “God Bless America,” which completely ignores the fact that this “tradition” dated only back to 9/11,” Kuntzman said via email. “Other writers were angry that I would question God’s place at a ballgame. Many said they would pray for me.”
There is a Facebook page dedicated to getting rid of the song.
“I think in New York it has become such a tradition at Yankee games that if they did away with it there would be a lot of people upset,” said the Rangers’ Morgan, who thinks the song’s sentiment is more powerful when it’s sung live.
In an informal Star-Telegram poll of almost 1,000 people on Twitter, 45 percent said they’d prefer to hear it every game, 26 percent only on Sundays and holidays, and 23 percent want to lose it entirely, and 6 percent chose to identify themselves as Communist, which is a facetious addition to the four choices in the poll.
“I think it’s great, every game is good,” said Rangers fan William Sonia, who lives in Richardson. “It’s really neat to see people of a little bit older generation that it means more to [enjoy the song]. It’d be nice if the younger generation did that.”
That’s just it. Are we over-saturating sports fans with patriotic anthems so much that the lyrics lose their power? That the melody just becomes a jingle? Background noise?
“It just seems like overkill sometimes,” said Iris Cooley of Burleson, who along with her husband, Mike, holds tickets for 20 games. “It’s more meaningful when it’s not every time. When it started, I got it. I understood that. It was there to remind us.”
Fans who attend on a regular basis are more likely to have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about the song, while those who rarely make it out to the park are inclined to want to experience all the entertainment a baseball game can provide.
But, as Kuntzman points out, “God Bless America” is just a pop song, the same as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Neil Diamond’s “America,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” Why don’t we sing those at ballgames?
“It is not a sacred text,” he said. “It’s pop culture garbage that pollutes our national pastime, where the only appropriate songs are the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
“It’s a bad song that brings God into a place where a deity does not belong,” Kuntzman added. “Even the national anthem does not mention God at all! (At least in the verses we sing.)”
The players, for the most part, don’t mind the tradition taking root.
Rangers reliever Tony Barnette recalled the iconic images from New York in 2001.
“It’s part of America’s history and on that level it’s, depending on who you talk to, it’s a heavy thing,” he said. “I like it. I like hearing it.”
Some have accused the Yankees of using the song to ice visiting pitchers. Rangers rookie Austin Bibens-Dirkx was on the mound during the seventh inning on June 24. He said it didn’t affect him.
“I like hearing it,” he said. “I’m proud to be out there when they’re playing it,” he said. “The majority of the people enjoy having it.”
Apparently, he’s right.
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